Fifty Shades Freed: Money is Sexier than BDSM

Fifty Shades Freed

The Fifty Shades of Grey series has made so much money. Like, hundreds of millions of dollars. That shouldn’t be surprising considering it was inspired by one of the past decade’s most lucrative franchises, The Twilight Saga. However, much like Stephenie Meyer, E.L. James is not a terribly gifted writer and the movies have always struggled to make the best of her work. The newest and last, Fifty Shades Freed, loses that struggle.

Part of the problem is that anyone who watched or read Twilight will be able to guess how this film plays out. Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Ana (Dakota Johnson) will get married and have a 50/50 chance of creating a vampire baby. Along the way, Ana’s rape-y ex-boss will try to kill one or both of them and Christian will learn to stop being an angsty little bitch.

It sounds like a lot of plot, but it’s all so ridiculous that it’s difficult to take seriously. Why does former book editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) have the skills of a CIA agent? Where did Ana learn to drive like Vin Diesel? Why is Christian’s BDSM uniform distressed jeans? None of it makes sense and, to its credit, the film seems to know it. Director James Foley zips through the action just as quickly here as he did in the previous installment and it keeps the viewer from having time to do much analysis in the moment. It’s almost as if he’s embarrassed by the material. In fact the only thing the movie really lingers on is Anastasia and how much she’s changed.

There are many ways in which James has poorly adapted Bella Swan’s already poor arc in Twilight, but by far the silliest is that in this, Bella’s innate gift for the vampire lifestyle becomes Anastasia being really good at being rich and powerful. Where Ana was a timid virgin in Fifty Shades of Grey, she is fully-realized here—both sexually and professionally.

Though Dornan is supposed to be the focus of the audience’s desire, Johnson steals the spotlight. Ana’s confidence is almost brazen as she removes her bikini top on a nude beach or struts out of her wedding, not in her delicate dress, but in a pantsuit in a shade of pink so light it would make Jay Gatsby jealous. Most remarkable, though, is seeing her competence at work. Sure, it’s hard to believe a girl so young who’s worked at a publishing house for less than a year would so effortlessly become its fiction editor, but it’s also so damn gratifying. Frankly, it’s far more gratifying than any of the sex scenes.

Though Foley created some really sexy moments in the previous installment, he seems to have regressed to director Sam Taylor-Johnson’s sterile beauty from the first film here. I previously wrote at length about the ways Fifty Shades fails its BDSM premise and save for one scene, that’s true again in Freed.

The scene comes after Ana and Christian have just had a major fight. Feeling powerless to either protect Ana or force her to let him control her, he secures her to a trellis in the playroom and teases her, repeatedly stopping just before she climaxes. Under better circumstances, it would be sexy, but Christian uses it as revenge here and it makes him seem not just cruel, but childish. How could a woman so self-possessed and sexually liberated stay with a man so petty and cowardly? The film never answers the question. It’s possible it doesn’t even know it’s asking it because–despite appearances–the series neither understands nor really cares about the sex.

Wealth is Fifty Shades‘s true fetish and it’s clearer here than ever before. The wedding and honeymoon montage that opens the film is like an entire season of The Bachelor distilled into a few minutes. The camera spends more time on the ornate lace on Ana’s dress and Christian’s yacht than on their actual vows. Even Christian’s glistening abs get more screentime.

Perhaps Christian would seem less ornamental played by an actor with more sexual charisma or at least a stronger take on the character, but as is, Christian is just another commodity Ana obtains. He’s a seemingly limitless bank account and a good dick. That used to be enough, but with Ana a self-possessed business woman and sexual being, this film makes it more difficult than ever to understand why she would stick with this man.

Fifty Shades Freed is, God willing, the final film in the Fifty Shades of Grey series and people who are actually invested in this love story should be grateful. Though Ana and Christian eventually get their happy ending, it’s not hard to imagine her one day realizing that she was always too good for Christian Grey.

As the mother of his child(ren?) and barring the off-screen signing of a very strong pre-nup, Ana could do very well for herself in any divorce proceedings down the line. She could take Christian for all he’s worth. Maybe she’d even screw that cute bodyguard out of spite. Anything’s possible. After all, thanks to Dakota Johnson, Anastasia Grey seems like she could do anything she wanted. That’s a wish fulfillment fantasy I’d actually like to watch.

Rating: 6.5/10

Fifty Shades Freed is currently in theaters.

By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.

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